The Fantastic Five
Ski-touring in Northern Norway, ice skating in Swedish Lapland or winter kayaking in Stockholm’s frosty archipelago – with a minimum ecological impact. Meet five adventurers from Scandinavia’s outdoor elite who pursue their passions along with the greatest concern for the environment.
Photos: Linus Meyer
Mountain guide Carl Lundberg started thinking about the impact his trips had on the environment. Now he wants to get more people to combine spectacular ski experiences with good environmental practices.
It’s a little like a traveling circus – the international mountain guides that move between continents and countries searching for the best snow conditions for every period of the winter season. From the Wanaka mountains in Southern New Zealand to the Lyngen Alps in Northern Norway. Carl Lundberg from Stockholm started working as a mountain guide over ten years ago – an adventurous lifestyle with countless flights in planes and helicopters. His dream was to follow winter around the globe and he sold the same lifestyle to his customers.
But there was something that gnawed at him.
While environmental awareness was increasing in society, he found it more difficult to defend his lifestyle. But even though his awareness of the issue was there, making the change wasn’t so easy. He thought of things like: “If I don’t offer heli-
skiing, someone else will,” and “What I do makes no difference on the whole.” Then he heard a radio program from the world-famous environmental professor Johan Rockström and shortly afterwards, he read Images of the Future City, a book about sustainable development.
“Both the book and radio program hit me like a bolt of lightning,” says Carl Lundberg.
“In the book, for instance, it said that flights needed to go down to the same level as in the 1990s. I lived in the ’90s, and things were great despite the fact that we were flying less often and eating less meat.”
First, he questioned if a sustainable lifestyle was incompatible with skiing.
“It is easy to be affected by a feeling of powerlessness when it comes to the climate. I went through a phase like this, but then I decided to turn my reasoning around. Whatever felt like too much to change, I put aside for the time-being, and then I focused on what was easy to change.”
Ecological ski adventures
He realized that – from a climate perspective – the range between the worst and best imaginable ski trip was enormous. Thus, he continued to ski, but in a far more climate-friendly way.
Taking a train instead of flying when possible was one of the things he began doing. For the next season, he turned down all guide jobs that required flying. He then took an additional step and launched ecological ski trips with small groups in Norway and Sweden.
“We do not use flights, just trains as long as it’s possible, then buses or lastly a car, and preferably an electric car if possible. Instead of snowmobiles and helicopters, I use dog sleds or we just trek.”
“I try to optimize my trips in every possible way. At the same time, you need to be pragmatic, the trip can’t be all chopped up investigating the climate. I want to show that it actually isn’t that difficult to ski in an environmentally conscious way.
He also wants to inspire his guests to make a change at other levels.
“Start with what is easy to change. The most obvious thing for a winter sport trip is to choose destinations that you can reach without taking a flight, to consume less, to choose environmentally friendly products, and to eat in an environmentally conscious way.”
“And don’t lose your perspective – your vacation is not more important than our planet.”
Occupation: IFMGA Mountain Guide.
Residence: Stockholm, Sweden.
More info: skitouringscandinavia.com
Photos: Karin Alfredsson
Moving in rhythm with the ocean is a fantastic feeling according to kayaker Karin Åmossa. But being a part of nature also entails responsibility.
When Karin Åmossa was a child, she and her sister used to play with seaweed and algae in Stockholm’s archipelago, where the family spent its summers in a sailboat.
“I have lots of memories of what it used to look like under the surface when we dove in and swam. So I was sad when I grew up and saw how the Baltic Sea had changed; with a brown sludge that is suffocating the seaweed. But in recent years, I think it has been looking slightly better under the surface.”
Karin Åmossa ought to know. She spends much of her free time sitting in her kayak, so she sees what is going on underneath the surface. She goes kayaking all year round, preferably traveling long distances. Last summer, she kayaked from her home in the Stockholm suburb of Gröndal to the border between Russia and Finland. One of her most extreme kayak adventures was an attempt to kayak along the entire coast of Norway in the summer of 2015 – a very exposed stretch.
“We started in Strömstad on the border between Sweden and Norway and traveled to Tromsø in northern Norway. We were forced to end our journey there. The weather became too difficult, it was the coldest, windiest, and rainiest summer in Norway in 76 years. We were out for 100 days.”
Close to wildlife
According to Karin Åmossa, it is an “existentially fantastic feeling” to go kayaking and live in rhythm with the ocean, nature and your own body and soul.
“Here and now becomes tangible, as does our own smallness. When you’re kayaking, you get so close to the wildlife and we have had the privilege of seeing sea otters, seals and orcas at play.”
“I go kayaking year round. The kayak is an arctic vessel and is extremely well-suited to travel in cold water. It is warm, dry and sheltered for the greater part of your body, and in the winter months, you get to experience a completely deserted archipelago. It’s magical.”
Leave no traces
Kayaking is also an excellent hobby for someone like Karin Åmossa, who wants to live as sustainably as possible.
“When we travel long distances by kayak, we contribute to the local economy. Unlike someone traveling by motorhome, for example, we can’t bring everything we need, but instead buy food and necessities along the way. We aren’t releasing emissions and we don’t make noise either. That is probably also why we are often very well received.”
“If you’re out in nature, the rule about leaving no traces is a good one. You take all your trash with you, human waste is buried, and it’s best to pee where the vegetation can take care of the nitrogen.”
When Karin Åmossa is not out at sea, she also tries to minimize her environmental impact.
“I don’t eat meat aside from exceptional occasions, I ride my bike or kayak to work, I never drive on weekdays, and I donate to environmental organizations. So that we, our children, grandchildren and the animals we share the planet with will be able to have a future.”
Occupation: Head of Research and International Affairs at a trade union.
Residence: Stockholm, Sweden.
Photos: Mattias Fredriksson
THE LOCAL HERO
Instead of traveling around the world for skiing, Mikael af Ekenstam is choosing to explore the mountains where he lives. It’s a mission that he has devoted more than ten years to.
In retrospect, Mikael af Ekenstam can see that 1998 was a decisive year in his life in two different ways. On the one hand, he won The Scandinavian Big Mountain Championships in Telemark skiing in Riksgränsen in northern Sweden. On the other hand, he moved to Gothenburg to study natural sciences at the university.
The victory in the competition in Riksgränsen became a ticket to the Scandinavian freeskiing elite. During the years that followed, Mikael af Ekenstam was Sweden’s most renowned Telemark skier and he participated in several ski movies.
“I moved into a collective in Gothenburg with vegans and environmental activists. And I got to meet interesting researchers who, among other things, opened my eyes to the climate issue.”
A move to the mountains
After his studies, Mikael af Ekenstam wanted to combine his two major interests: skiing and environmental issues. He moved to Kiruna in northern Sweden and then on to Narvik on the Norwegian side of the border, where he now lives with his family a stone’s throw from the local ski facility.
“I began working in the energy and environmental sector. Today, I work at Sweco, one of the Nordic region’s largest technology consultant companies focused on sustainability.”
Along with his work (and his political commitment to the Green Party), Mikael af Ekenstam has devoted hundreds of winter days to exploring the Norwegian and Swedish mountains around Narvik. He has carried out his exploration with the help of climbing skins under his skis – a very environmentally friendly method of transportation. Together with a photographer, he has written best-selling guidebooks of the top ski tours in this vast mountain region.
The fact that he has chosen to stay on his home ground is a deliberate environmental choice.
“I have to fly sometimes for my job, so I don’t want to fly in my free time as well. I don’t do any ski trips by plane and have an ongoing negotiation with the rest of my family when we plan our vacations.”
Meditative ski touring
He views his self-imposed limitation as an exciting challenge.
“Instead of traveling away from home, I want to travel within myself. To see what the mind can manage by skiing really steep runs, get in better shape and have more endurance, get better at using the equipment on the way up as well as down. And even finding new places to ski, new stretches that link different tours and mountains.”
“I realize I’m very fortunate to live where I can ski basically every day throughout the winter. I’ll never get bored – I can enjoy changes in the light, the snow, the weather.”
His ski tours, long and high in number, also give him energy and time for his thoughts.
“Spending a lot of time out in nature gives me motivation to work with environmental issues. I work in an industry where we are technology optimists. But I have a hard time seeing technology solve everything. At the same time, we need to change how we think about consumption and we need to change our behaviors.”
“And I believe that trying to live in line with your values provides more harmony.”
Mikael af Ekenstam
Occupation: Environmental consultant and sustainability director.
Residence: Narvik, Norway.
Photos: Chanelle Sladics
THE SNOW GURU
Kjersti Buaas is a professional snowboarder who always travels with her own utensils in her luggage, plants desert vegetation in California, and dreams about solar-powered flights.
Kjersti Buaas from Trondheim, Norway has been competing in half-pipe and slope-style snowboarding events throughout the world for 20 years, winning medals at the Olympic Games, the X Games, and the US Open. Today, she has both her own clothing line manufactured from recycled materials as well as her own travel agency that offers holistic retreats for adventurous women.
Everything started in the Norwegian mountains.
“We had a cottage near Dovre and Foldal in Norway, and my family was always out hiking in the forest or mountains.”
Her childhood experiences laid the foundation for Kjersti’s commitment to the environment, something she describes as an “essential part” of her life today.
“I always choose products that are sustainably manufactured. I almost never eat meat and prefer organic produce from farmers’ markets or my own garden. I always have a bottle of water and utensils with me when I travel.”
Grow with nature
During the summer, she lives in California. There, she has an outlet for one of her major interests: Growing according to the principle of permaculture.
“It’s a philosophy that deals with growing with instead of against nature. For example, you can plant flowers that attract pollinating insects as well as “root diggers” that go deep down into the soil to gather nutrients in order to provide nutrition to fruit trees.”
“The house that we live in has solar panels, so we are self-sufficient when it comes to electricity. Furthermore, we have replaced our lawn on our property with cacti and succulents, which do not require as much water, in order to save resources.”
As a professional athlete, she flies quite a lot, although she has reduced the number of travel days in recent years. She is aware that she is a part of the problem when it comes to carbon emissions, but she doesn’t believe that the solution needs to be to stop traveling altogether.
“Travel arouses our curiosity, gives us perspective, and creates understanding for different people and cultures. There are so many positive things about travel, so I’m hoping the future will bring more sources of renewable energy. Wouldn’t it be amazing to fly with a solar-powered plane?”
Protecting our winters
Her traveling makes her try to live and work as environmentally friendly as possible in other aspects. In addition, she uses her platform as an internationally famous snowboarder to raise awareness about the environment and sustainability.
“For example, I am a member of Protect Our Winters, an international movement within the winter sports community against climate change.”
“Another exciting project I want to push for is Draw Down, which shows the 100 most effective ways of reversing global warming. It’s a list that shows you how you can contribute, both as an individual and on a large scale. Take a look – I am convinced you will find several measures that you didn’t think could contribute to solving the climate crisis.”
It might seem logical: If you love ice, you don’t want to contribute to climate change. At least, that is how Oskar Karlin, one of Sweden’s leading Nordic ice skaters, sees it.
It’s one of Sweden’s biggest winter activities – and it is virtually unknown beyond the country’s borders. Nordic ice skating involves skating on frozen lakes and sea water with elongated ice skates, ski boots, and ice picks. Most people do day tours in groups with a leader. On a cold, sunny weekend, thousands of skaters can be out on the ice in Stockholm’s archipelago. But there are also skaters that turn the trip into an adventure. They can travel over a hundred kilometers in a day, sometimes on thin ice. The best of all is being the first person on a lake where no one else has skated.
Among the group of adventurous skaters in Sweden, Oskar Karlin is a household name. In the winter of 2016, he and two friends did a system of lakes that no one had skated before: The vast lakes in Padjelanta National Park in Sweden’s Lapland, 54 kilometers into the wilderness from the end of the road. In winter, their ice is usually covered with snow. But during a few freezing cold and clear days in early January, the satellite images showed what looked like perfect conditions for ice skating.
When other ice skaters do similar long-distance expeditions, they often get to the ice by plane and helicopter. That was never an option for Oskar Karlin.
“We took the night train from Stockholm to Gällivare. There weren’t any buses that traveled on to the area during that period, so we had to rent a car and drive there. Then we made our way on skies and ice skates for three days.”
For Oskar Karlin, flying is not an option as long as there are other means of travel. One reason is the large carbon emissions from traveling by plane, but another reason is because the journey itself becomes a part of the hardship.
“Some people get a kick out of climbing up the top of a mountain but don’t worry about how they get there. I want getting there to be a challenge. It makes the entire experience better.”
Oskar Karlin also makes adjustments in other aspects of his life in order to make as small an impact on the climate as possible. He doesn’t eat meat and uses public transportation. If he needs to travel by car, he rents an electric one.
“All of this is self-explanatory to me, but I realize it’s not for everyone. I can get upset at friends who fly to Berlin over a weekend even when they know how detrimental it is.”
Work less, live more
If Oscar Karlin wants to travel from Stockholm to Berlin, he takes the train.
“I did that a few years ago and it went great. I love taking the train. And taking the night train from Stockholm to the Swedish mountains is fantastic. You board the train in the evening and you’re there the next morning and you can go right out on the mountain.”
A common excuse is that the train takes too long, but he thinks this is just a cop-out.
“High earners can employ arguments like that they deserve to travel to London over the weekend because they work so hard, but it doesn’t justify unsustainable behavior.”
Oskar Karlin works as a map specialist and has a position that is 80% of full-time.
“It gives me more time to live and less money to consume.”
Residence: Stockholm, Sweden